Best Plasma Cutters With Built in Air Compressors - 2020 Reviews
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Best Plasma Cutters with Built in Air Compressors 2020

*** This post was updated on: March 2, 2020 ***

For the ultimate in portability a plasma cutter needs an on board air compressor. In many cases this requires a sacrifice of performance.

But the Powermax30 AIR from Hypertherm manages to offer both a highly portable, lightweight design, in addition to performance that nearly matches models requiring an external air compressor.

With a max cutting thickness of 3/8″ and a duty cycle of 35% the Powermax30 AIR takes the top spot in our comparison. It’s capable of cutting a wide variety of metals including stainless steel, aluminum, mild steel, copper and their alloys. The pilot-arc ignition even allows it to cut painted materials.

Plasma cutters are a powerful tool to have whether you’re working on the ranch, in an auto body shop, or making metal yard art as a hobby.

Air supply has always been an important consideration, as forced air is required to keep the cutting tip clean and cool. Traditionally an external air compressor has been needed to provide this function.

Now there are many models available with the compressors built in, making the whole process easier and more portable.

Without further ado here are our top picks:

Best Plasma Cutters With Built-In Air Compressors

1. Hypertherm Powermax30 AIR Plasma Cutter with Built-In Air Compressor - Top Pick

The Powermax30 AIR from Hypertherm is the best plasma cutter with a built-in air compressor.  It dominates the competition when it comes to units designed with portability in mind.

In terms of cutting capacity it's rated to cut 3/8″ steel at 10 inches per minute and can sever 5/8″ at 5 inches per minute. It’s inverter power supply is efficient enough to allow it to do all of this at 120V.

Hypertherm’s Auto-Voltage sensing technology allows it to operate at both 120V (20A) and 240V. And while it’s performance at 120V is impressive, it gets even better when supplied with more power.

At 240V it’s duty cycle jumps to 35% for rated cuts (as compared to 20% duty cycle at 120V). This makes the Powermax30 AIR the far and away best portable plasma cutter in terms of performance.

Specifications

  • Weight: 29.8lbs
  • Dimensions: 16.5 x 7.7 x 13.1 inches
  • Amperage: 15-30 Amps
  • Input Voltage: 120-240V
  • Duty Cycle: 35% at 240V
  • Max Cut: 3/8"
  • Compress Air Delivery: Internal
  • Warranty: 3 years

Pros

  • Reduce grinding time with clean, precise cuts.
  • Lower long term costs through efficient use of consumables
  • Hypertherm build quality and durability
  • Speed - 10in /minute on 3/8" mild steel
  • Simple setup & operation
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Quickly switch between continuous pilot arc, non-continuous, and gouge operations

Cons

  • Highest price of the group
  • Low duty cycle on 120V
  • Plastic case is underwhelming

2. Thermal Arc 1-1110-1 Air Cut 15C Plasma Cutter With Built in Air Compressor

With a max recommended cutting thickness of 1/8″, this plasma cutter isn’t going to blow you away with its power. It’s rated at 15A so it can be used with just about any outlet. However, it has just a 30% duty cycle so it’s not designed for heavy usage.

Given it’s diminutive power supply we were a bit concerned about how this unit would perform, but within the specified recommendations it is pretty impressive. It continuously cut through 1/8″ steel with clean lines and even managed a reasonably clean cut through 3/8″ material.

The Air Cut 15C is capable of cutting a wide variety of metals. This includes stainless steel, aluminum, mild steel, copper and their alloys. The pilot-arc ignition even allows it to cut painted materials.

The Thermal Arc 15C is lightweight and with a 20′ torch lead, is super convenient for working on vehicles. At just 29 pounds, it is the lightest cutter in our comparison.

While it’s not going to win any competitions for cutting capacity, this unit pleasantly surprised us. And the 20ft torch lead is really nice for those that work specifically on cars.

The price is the highest of the three models but not by much. Besides the performance was definitely the best among the three.  For more information you can see the user manual.

Specifications

  • Weight: 29lbs
  • Dimensions: 23.1 x 11.4 x 12.3 inches
  • Amperage: 15 Amps
  • Input Voltage: 120-240 V
  • Duty Cycle: 35% at 240V
  • Max Cut: 1/8" up to 3/16"
  • Compress Air Delivery: Internal
  • Warranty: 1 Year

Pros

  • Highly portable
  • Solid duty cycle
  • Reasonably clean cuts up to 3/8" steel

Cons

  • Relatively expensive
  • Low duty cycle on 120V

3. Hobart AirForce™ 12ci Plasma Cutter With Built in Compressor

The Hobart 12ci is probably the least powerful of the three units we chose for this comparison. The other two units can be used with a 15A circuit while the 12ci requires a 20A. The unit weighs just 31 pounds. That puts it just a pound over the Thermal Dynamics unit.

We’re a bit biased towards Hobart’s products here at The Tool Reportt and for good reason. They put a huge emphasis on build quality and this translates to tools that perform well and last for years. On top of that they back everything up with a solid warranty.

This unit is no exception. It performed extremely well in cutting capacity with regular cuts of 1/8″ steel and easily severed 1/4″ as per their specifications. The only reason it comes in third instead of second was because of the higher power requirements.

Normally this slight difference wouldn’t matter, but in a class where convenience is key, requiring a 20A circuit is a slight ding. (The shorter torch cord was another ding although slight)

Specifications

  • Weight: 21lbs
  • Dimensions: 10 x 7.5 x 13 inches
  • Amperage: 12 Amps
  • Input Voltage: 110-120 V
  • Duty Cycle: 35% at 40A
  • Max Cut: 1/8"
  • Compress Air Delivery: Internal
  • Warranty: 5-3-1 Year (see manufacturers website for details)

Pros

  • Highly portable
  • Clean cuts through thinner metals
  • Solid Hobart build quality and warranty

Cons

  • Relatively expensive compared to Thermadyn unit
  • Low duty cycle on 120V

4. Forney 317 Plasma Cutter with Onboard Compressor - Best Budget Pick

The Forney 317 115FI with Built-In Compressor can cut mild steel, stainless steel, aluminum, copper, brass, cast iron and other conductive metals.

Just like the Thermal Dynamics unit this one uses 120V, 15A so it can be plugged in anywhere. And of course the lower power rating translates to relative thin max cuts.

This machine will cut 1/8″ and will sever 1/4″. Cut speeds of at least 20 inches per minute (IPM) It incorporates drag torch technology which provides more precise cuts by allowing the user to move (drag) the torch directly across the metal surface.

This can be a handy feature for those new to plasma cutting, but won’t have much of an impact if you’re used to working with this type of equipment.

Our biggest complaint with this unit was the slow ignition time. It took about 3 seconds from pulling the trigger on the torch until it ignited. This can be a bit cumbersome if you’re making lots of smaller cuts.

From a performance perspective it was a bit slower than the Thermadyne unit in cutting through 1/8″ steel. However it is almost $200 cheaper, so if price is a big deal, this unit could be a good option.

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Specifications

  • Weight: 38.9lbs
  • Dimensions: 15 x 7.5 x 14 inches
  • Amperage: 15 Amps
  • Input Voltage: 110-120 V
  • Duty Cycle: 25% at 12A
  • Max Cut: 1/8"
  • Compress Air Delivery: Internal Piston
  • Warranty: 5-3-1 Year (see manufacturers website for details)

Pros

  • Highly portable
  • Clean cuts through 1/8"
  • Drag cutting capable
  • Very reasonable price
  • Solid build

Cons

  • Slow ingnition
  • Low duty cycle on 120V

5. S7 50 Amp Built-In Air Compressor Plasma Cutting System

The S7 50 Amp plasma cutter with built-in compressor can cut most metals, including: stainless steel, alloy, aluminum, mild steel, carbon steel etc. It is designed for applications such as automotive repair or bodywork, ducting work, repair & maintenance, metal processing

This unit uses only 220V, so it will require a special circuit if used in a home or shop.  

This machine will cut up to 1/2" steel but we found that was REALLY pushing its capabilities.  You'll be better off sticking to metal closer to 3/8" if you want a smooth and clean cut.

As with all the other models in this comparison the S7 includes an on-board air compressor that is preset to the requirements of the machine.  Overall it's a solid unit given it's low retail price.  But in terms of long-term reliability we prefer the Forney at a similar price point.

Specifications

  • Weight: 47.9lbs
  • Dimensions: 19.8 x 16.2 x 16.1 inches
  • Amperage: 20-50 Amps
  • Input Voltage: 220 V
  • Duty Cycle: 35% at 20A
  • Max Cut: 1/2"
  • Compress Air Delivery: Internal Piston
  • Warranty: 1 Year

Pros

  • Highly portable
  • Clean cuts through 3/8" mild steel
  • Very reasonable price

Cons

  • By far the heaviest cutting system
  • Cuts above 3/8" weren't clean

Key Features for a Portable Plasma Cutting System

Something to keep in mind with these particular plasma cutters is that there is going to be a bit of a trade-off in performance for convenience in a unit with a built in air compressor and one that uses an external compressor. If portability and convenience are high priorities these cutters make a great choice.

Duty Cycle

Some plasma cutters are designed to be used for shorter cycles. Though they maximize the amount of power available during that time, they shouldn’t be expected to perform the same under significant or heavy usage. Usually, the higher the amperage rating, the higher the duty cycle.

While many units can make a 1/4″ cut, if you’re pushing the maximum of your unit, the cuts will not be as precise or clean. If you’re looking for a unit that can go all day long under heavy load you’ll be better off making your buying decision based on the average thickness the unit is capable of cutting.

Input Voltage and Amperage

Another very important thing to consider is the input voltage of the unit. Most cutters are either 120 or 22o volts. Some plasma cutting systems are able to work with either. If your shop has a 220v outlet available, then your best bet is to go with a 220V cutter.

It helps if you think of voltage as a garden hose. The larger the hose, the more water that can go through it. That same principle applies with electricity, so if you’re got a 220v outlet, go with a cutter that can handle higher voltages. If you’re limited to 120v, you’ll probably want to have a 20A circuit installed in your shop. Most residential breakers are 15A only and are often shared by multiple outlets, which can be an issue if you’re cutter pulls too much amperage for the outlet.

Cutting Speed and Thickness

You need to have a good understanding of the kinds of materials you will be cutting, and choose a unit that can handle it comfortably and quickly. The speed at which the unit cuts becomes more important depending on the length of the cuts you need to make. The closer you get to the maximum thickness rating of a unit, the slower you will have to go. And even if you slow down you’ll often have to go back and clean up the cut. Nothing is more frustrating than having to go back over every cut because you’re bumping up against your cutter’s limitations.

Start Method

There two types of start methods: contact and high frequency. A contact start is a good choice if you’ll be working near computers, analytical equipment, or other sensitive electronic devices. This will ensure that it causes no interference with your other devices.

Thank you for checking out our list of plasma cutters with built in compressors. Please leave comments with any questions or with products you would like to see reviewed. For information on other units, check out our buying guide.

As always wear proper safety equipment when using cutting and welding equipment. For more information click here.

About the Author Jason Thompson

Jason is a work from home dad who has a passion for DIY projects, yard work, and SEC Football. His background is IT, but he's always fancied himself as a part-time ship welder, landscaper, and short order cook. During the week he can be found on his laptop 10 hours-a-day, but on the weekends he escapes to the local DIY Cave to play with REAL toys.  You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and can contact him via email.